It’s the 25th minute. A free-kick a fair way of. The wall is set- a swarm of yellows guarding the citadel and Oblak shouting instructions from the goal to thwart the danger. A couple of people in the wall jump up to make it even tougher, but then, it’s that man! A measured kick sails over the wall and dips viciously, tantalizingly touching Oblak’s stretched hands just that wee bit, before nestling into the top left corner. Messi! Messi!
Nou Camp goes berserk as Barcelona takes the lead in the top of the table clash vs Atletico Madrid. We are in the stands, making up the full house of a hundred thousand. It’s drizzling continuously but who cares about that when the atmosphere is so riveting. Everyone is ‘colour coordinated’ (why, even our water proof jackets are red and blue!), face painted and waving their flags wildly. The Spanish crowd is so very passionate- worshipping Messi, egging the rest of the team and not afraid to voice their disapproval to the referee when a decision goes against their team. Barcelona dominates the match and come close to scoring a few more, but they end up winning just 1-0 to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table. It’s a memorable experience for me as a passionate sports fan- to be in the Mecca of Spanish football and seeing the ‘Messi’ah score! It’s truly a bucket list tick.
I can imagine how Caesar would have felt when he conquered Turkey- Veni, Vidi, Vici! As I reminisce, there are a fair share of memorable sporting spectacles I have seen live. Watching the action on TV is one thing, but nothing can match the experience of ‘been there, done that’. So, which are your most memorable live match experiences?
There are a few cricketing masterpieces. Top of the pile, for obvious reasons, was the 2001 Eden Gardens test vs Australia. When Dada’s army stalled the 16 match bandwagon of Steve and his all-conquering Aussie team. I still remember we had made plans for an early lunch at Park Street on Day 4 but then Laxman and Dravid had other ideas. They batted on and on, and it was a stuff of dreams. When Dada declared an hour into the fifth day, we were safe. But over the next five hours, Bhajji and Sachin the leg spinner did the unthinkable and made this possibly the best comeback ever in the history of test cricket. Something I can surely brag about to my grandchildren!
A lot of my best sporting experiences have been in Eden Gardens and one of the memorable ones was during the Hero Cup in 1993. India was a middling side then led by Eden’s crown prince Azhar, with a young Sachin and an aging Kapil. Hero Cup was a long format event where all the major teams participated. A pulsating semi-final pitted India against South Africa. We were defending 195 and going into the last over, SA needed six runs for a win. It was nail biting stuff. Surprising everyone, Azzu Bhai threw the ball to Sachin, who had not bowled till then. The rest, as they say, is history. Sachin with his five step medium pace would out fox McMillan and co. and will give us a ‘till then scarcely believable’ two run win. Pin drop silent Eden will be delirious with joy as India won. It was a day-night match and torches would be lit for the first time with spare newspapers. India went on to beat a very strong Windies side and lift the Hero Cup. Remember an out of the world caught and bowled by Kapil, ‘God’ again sending Lara’s stumps for a cartwheel, and a ‘6 wickets for 12 runs’ spell by the ‘professor’ Kumble.
Eden also gave a few other memorable matches. Who can forget South Africa’s re-entry into One Day cricket? Clive Rice and Azhar walked out to toss amidst much fanfare. It was a low scoring affair as the world got a first glance of ‘The White Lightening’ Allan Donald who broke Indian’s back with a fifer but the very young ‘Master Blaster’ stood out alone with a breath taking 62 as India would complete a 3 wicket win. Donald and Sachin would share the MoM prize as the world welcomed back SA to the cricketing fold. The other Eden spectacle I remember, not so fondly, this time is the Salim Malik heist in ’87. That was one of my first live match experiences and after ‘Cheeka’ Srikanth’s century, India seemed to be coasting towards an easy win as Pakistan needed 80 runs in 8 overs- a very steep ask in pre IPL days. Salim Malik would go mad, scoring 72 in 36 balls as he would single handedly (literally) get a win for Pakistan with half an over to spare!
I have seen a fair share of IPL matches including some close KKR clashes in Mumbai over the years. But who can forget the Dada vs KKR clash at the DY Patil Stadium in IPL 5? I am a big Dada fan and also sing the ‘Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo’ anthem. So when Dada donned the Pune jersey, I was in a tight spot. Whom to support? The ‘Maharaja’, or, my favourite team? I wasn’t the only one- the entire stadium seemed to be sharing this dilemma as Bongs landed in hordes. Dada would entertain with his batting including one trade-mark six over long on but KKR would go on to get an easy win- so it was a ‘win win’ situation for everyone.
There have been a few memorable experiences beyond cricket too. The Davis Cup in the early 90’s vs Switzerland at South Club saw Ramesh Krishnan and Leander battle it out vs Rosset and Co. Rosset was the reigning Olympics Singles champion then and had the biggest serve in the game then. Not a good information if you are the ball boy- as you had to be attentive and ready to take evasive action as you faced Rosset’s thunderbolts! There was some rain and the uneven bounce which helped India. At 2-2, Ramesh Krishnan would become a magician and stun Hlasek to give India a wonderful tie win.
A couple of other recent experiences were also great. Being part of the U-19 Football World Cup spectacle in India and watching a semifinal- it would have been better if Brazil was one of the teams, but Spain or Mali did not disappoint and it was a great fun watching with a vociferous crowd that appreciated sports which was not cricket in India! The other exciting one was watching an Australian ‘Footy’ match at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Enjoying a completely new game in a foreign country was nice as it gave a peak into the country’s culture. AFL has an extremely passionate fan base in Australia and the fast pace game was extremely entertaining.
So, quite a few good ones in the trip down memory lane, but still a few unticked ones in the bucket list… a Lord’s test match, a boxing day test match at MCG, a World Cup Cricket final, watching the Gunners at Emirates, cheering the Brazil football team live, and enjoying the strawberries and creams at London SW 19 Wimbeldon. No harm in keeping the dreams big, what say?!